It was on the banks of this river Amu Darya, in ancient times called the Oxus and deified by certain peoples of Central Asia, that the germ of contemporary culture first appeared on earth. And during my journey up this river with Professor Skridlov an incident occurred— extraordinary for Europeans but very characteristic of the local patriarchal morality, as yet unaffected by contemporary civilization— the victim of which was an exceedingly good old Sart. The memory of this incident has often evoked in me the feeling of remorse of conscience, since it was because of us that this good old man lost his money, perhaps forever. I therefore wish to describe this part of our journey to that country, then inaccessible to Europeans, in as much detail as possible and to describe it more or less in the style of a literary school which I happened to study in my youth and which arose and nourished, so it seems, just here on the shores of this great river—a style called the ‘creation of images without words’.
The Amu Darya, which higher up in its course is called the river Pyandzh, has its main sources in the Hindu Kush mountains and flows at the present time into the Aral Sea, though formerly, according to certain historical data, it emptied into the Caspian Sea.
At the period to which the present story relates, this river washed the boundaries of many countries—the former Russia, the Khivan khanate, the Bukharian khanate, Afghanistan, Kafiristan, British India and so on.
It was formerly navigated by rafts of a special kind, but, when the region was conquered by Russia, a river fleet of flat-bottomed steamboats was launched which, besides fulfilling certain military needs, provided passenger and cargo service between the Aral Sea and the upper reaches of the river.
And so I begin, also of course for the purpose of resting, to wiseacre a little in the style of the aforementioned ancient literary school.